When Harold Danko was a second grader at Stevenson School in Masury, he read “Robinson Crusoe.”
“The teacher (Alice Hoffman) noticed this, and asked me to tell the class about the book,” Danko said in
his keynote address at Youngstown State University’s May 8 commencement. “I proudly stated that
Robinson Crusoe got lost on a boat trip and ended up stranded on an ‘is-land.’”
Danko pronounced the final word “iss-land.”
“My teacher had to gently tell me that the word was ‘island,’” he said. “Suddenly, the lights came on for
me. The whole story made sense suddenly. My wrong word had been corrected by a very kind teacher,
and I was suddenly a whole lot smarter. More importantly than that, I was willing to read another book.
Correction in any subject is crucial for success.”
promoThe story illustrated one of Danko’s main points in his address and his life: that making mistakes is
essential to personal and professional growth.
For Danko, a jazz pianist, he turned making mistakes into a career.
“I remember going to lessons, and playing my little piece for the teacher, and next you would hear her
say, ‘That was very nice. You made three mistakes,’” he said. “Hmm. OK. Then, I would play it again,
Whoops! Four mistakes that time. Wow. I, in my case, I had to become an improviser. I’ve spent many
decades making something out of mistakes. In other words, turning wrong notes into right notes,
Noting, that mathematicians incorrectly figure equations, business people make bad investments and
scientists produce incorrect results, Danko said trial and error is a part of everyone’s story.
“Maybe, there will be more wrong notes before you actually find your own way, especially in this
challenging but very exciting time,” he said.
Danko encouraged the students to maintain the networks and friendships they developed in college and
seek out new ones.
“I really hope that you will take chances in your life, and open those doors,” he said. “Always evaluate
the risks involved, but stay ready for the opportunities that come up.”
“Most importantly, enjoy the common journey and you may find that some wrong notes may indeed
illuminate the path for you.”
Danko, 73, was presented an honorary doctor of music by YSU. The 1965 graduate of Brookfield High
School and 1969 graduate of YSU’s Dana School of Music played piano in the Army and with luminaries
such as Woody Herman, Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, Liza Minelli and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis
He taught at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., where he was chair of the Jazz and
Contemporary Media Department for 11 years.
Danko wrote a column on solo piano in Keyboard magazine for five years, and is author of a book on
He has maintained an active recording career as a leader and co-leader, and his latest recording, “Spring
Garden, was released in March.
Danko has been announced for induction into the Brookfield Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame,
although the induction has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic